Phillies introduce Bryce Harper

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The Phillies formally introduced Bryce Harper in a press conference held at Spectrum Field on Saturday. Managing partner John Middleton, general manager Matt Klentak, and agent Scott Boras were all in attendance as the slugger donned his team cap and jersey for the first time.

Following a few opening statements from Klentak, Harper spoke to his excitement over the signing and illuminated a few of the reasons that helped push him toward Philadelphia:

It’s good to feel wanted, it’s good to feel wanted by the Phillies organization, by the fanbase, by the city as well. I love my family very much and Philly is going to be part of that family for a very long time. […] It felt like a home, it felt like somewhere I could be for a long time, and that was important to me. I’m going to grow my family in this city, and that’s the biggest thing for me. I wanted to be somewhere for a long period of time. I wanted to finish my career somewhere and they made that commitment to me. I can’t wait to be able to be part of the Phillies for a long time.

During the Q&A that followed, Klentak declined to reveal exactly how negotiations had unfolded in the days leading up to Harper’s 13-year, $330 million agreement with the team. Boras, meanwhile, cited the Phillies’ “strong, strong passion for winning and continued winning” and reiterated that the front office had made a concerted effort to show Harper that they could provide the career longevity, family-focused environment, and tight-knit community he was looking for.

The 26-year-old outfielder will wear no. 3 in Philadelphia instead of the no. 34 he donned in Washington; a change, some said Friday, that was likely compelled by the Phillies’ rumored plans to retire Hall of Famer Roy Halladay’s number this season. Harper all but confirmed the report on Saturday:

“Of course I wore 34 [in Washington], but I thought Roy Halladay should be the last one to wear it,” he said. He also explained that he declined to ask teammate Maikel Franco for no. 7 (the chosen number of his favorite player, Mickey Mantle), and revealed that no. 3 had some significance for him as both his father and brother wore the number in high school.

Harper concluded the press conference by vowing, in so many words, to stick by the club through the down years as well as the winning ones. While he shied away from any big proclamations about World Series championships yet to come (saying only that he’d love to bring a title to the organization), he emphasized that his primary goal was to build a legacy in Philadelphia — a commitment the Phillies would no doubt be overjoyed to see him follow through.

Two injured MVPs is a major bummer for baseball

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Last week Christian Yelich‘s season ended with a fractured kneecap. At the time he went down he was neck-and-neck with Cody Bellinger — I think a tad behind, though people may reasonably differ — and, at least by my reckoning, a hair or three above Anthony Rendon, Ketel Marte and Pete Alonso in the race for the NL MVP Award. As I wrote last week, I think that means Bellinger is going to walk away with the hardware when the winner is announced in November. Yelich’s injury will prevent him from making a late season surge to surpass Bellinger, but I think it would’ve taken a surge for him to do it.

Over the weekend we learned that Mike Trout’s season is over as well. He’ll be having foot surgery to deal with a nerve issue causing him pain. At the time he went down he was the clear frontrunner to win his third MVP Award. Unlike Yelich, I’m pretty sure Trout will still win the trophy. Sure, Trout hasn’t played since September 7, meaning that he’ll miss more time than Yelich will, but strained articles stumping for alternative candidates notwithstanding, his lead in the MVP race was more secure.

Trout’s 2019 ends with him setting a career high in homers with 45 and slugging percentage at .645—both of which lead the American League. He likewise leads the league in on-base percentage (.438), OPS (1.083), and in both Baseball-Reference.com’s and FanGraphs’ versions of WAR at 8.3 and 8.6, respectively. With just under two weeks to go it seems likely that Jorge Soler of the Royals will pass Trout for the home run lead, but he’s not an MVP candidate himself. Alex Bregman will likely pass him in walks. Trout seems pretty certain to finish with his lead in all or most of the other categories intact. That’s an MVP resume even if he’ll only have played in 134 games. To give the award to anyone else would be an exercise in narrative over reason. Something born of a desire to reward a guy — like, say, Bregman — for playing on a winning team as opposed to his individual accomplishments. Sure, voters are allowed to do that, but they’ve mostly eschewed such tendencies in recent years. It’d be a surprise if they backslid.

Even if Yelich’s and Trout’s injuries aren’t likely to radically change the MVP race — again, I think the NL’s was Bellinger’s to lose — they’re both still lamentable separate and apart from the fact that all injuries stink. Lamentable in a way that, unfortunately, creates a downer for baseball as it gets ready for the postseason.

The Brewers won the game in which Yelich went down and have won four of five since then. In so doing they have remained close in the race for the second Wild Card and currently stand one game back. They also have an insanely favorable schedule the rest of the way, exclusively facing the weak sisters of the National League in the Padres, Pirates, Reds and Rockies. Even so, it’s no gimmie — those Reds and Rockies games are on the road, and Great American Ballpark and Coors Field makes those bad teams better — and the reward at the end of this is likely to be a one-game play-in. You want your best player in any and all situations and the Brewers don’t have theirs. And won’t, even if they make the postseason and even if they win the Wild Card game. Having one of the game’s brightest stars on crutches for the playoffs is not something anyone at the league office wants.

The Angels have no such postseason concerns and haven’t had them for most of the season. Once again they’re terrible. As they have been for almost the entirety of Trout’s career. They’ve made the postseason only once in his career — back in 2014, losing the LDS in three games — and do not appear poised to put a winner on the field any time soon. Trout is still in his prime, obviously, but like all players he’ll either slow down or break down eventually. Given the state of the club, I’m not sure I’d put a ton of money on them being good, let alone consistently good, while Trout is still the best or even one of the few best players in baseball. The upside to me seems to be an Al Kaline situation with the Tigers, in which the team finally put it together behind him only after he began to age and miss time to injuries. Having the best player in baseball outside of the playoffs looking in is not something anyone at the league office should want either.

Yet here we are.

Injuries happen. Every contender is missing at least one and in some cases several important players. But for one MVP candidate to miss the postseason this year and another one to miss the postseason every year is a major bummer for a league that has a tough go of it marketing itself even under the best of circumstances.